Ziegarnik Effect

The Ziegarnik Effect

Some people illustrate a particular work ethic that is founded on the compulsion to complete or finish what has been started, at the soonest time possible. This urge finds some joy in a completed task, and hangs in an uncomfortable uncertainty if anything is unfinished.

This is Ziegarnik Effect!

It was the Russian industrial psychologist and psychiatrist Bluma Wulfovna Ziegarnik (1900-1988) who discovered and developed this work ethic phenomenon in the 1920s (she also etablished the discipline of pscyhopathology). She was intrigued and amazed by how waiters in restaurants were so efficient in getting and memorizing their customers' orders even without writing them down. Once those orders were delivered, the waiters immediately forgot them. She made several years of experiments and in 1927 at the Berlin University, she published her research on this kind of work ethic behavior she called the Ziegarnik Effect.

Ziegarnik Effect describes the need for completion, closure or culmination -- an individual's propensity to finish a task once started. This work ethic is primarily premised on Ziegarnik's research findings on how the human mind is better at remembering and hence attending to incomplete tasks.

Manifestions of Ziegarnik Effect:

  1. People don't like to "change horses midstream," or change priorities in the middle.
  2. Some employees will work after office hours, with or without overtime pay, to wrap up a project or finish an assigned task.
  3. Employees sometimes balk or resist at stopping one task and starting another, even if it is necessary.
  4. Some people do not want additional work until they finish on their current tasks.
INSIGHTS: Somehow the Ziegarnik Effect is a positive work ethic. It is inherent among task-oriented and output-oriented people. This kind of work attitude leads to high productivity. However, if people are not flexible, this could lead to work-related stresses and workplace conflicts. Work completion is never absolute; work continues to add up. So people need to learn how to be flexible, to relax and to prioritize on important and urgent work. Some tasks may be completed, some others may need more time to finish. If uncontrolled, Ziegarnik Effect can become an unhealthy obsessive compulsive work behavior. It can also result in waste by haste. It is likewise vulnerable to Peter Principle.


Uris, Auren. 1986. 101 of the Greatest Ideas in Management. USA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Ziegarnik Effect at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bluma_Zeigarnik

Ziegarnik Effect at http://www.articlealley.com/article_98204_3.html

Ziegarnik Effect at http://brandon-hall.com/garywoodill/?p=9